Death or Life: Which Will You Choose?

That seems like a pretty easy question to answer, doesn’t it?  If I were a betting man, I’d be willing to bet that 100% of people, when presented with a choice between life and death, will choose life.  I believe it’s safe to assume that we like living more than we like dying.  Most people, when they’re asked if they’d like to have eternal life, will say yes.  Again, I don’t have statistics to back that claim up, but I feel like it’s a safe assumption.

But do we know how to gain eternal life?  There’s no denying that we all want it, but Jesus makes it clear that not all will have eternal life.  Not all will be with God forever.  While we all want to have eternal life, or as Kenny Chesney put it, “everybody wants to go to heaven,” how can we know that we will go there?  How can we be sure that we have life?  Jesus has answered that question for us in Matthew 7:13-14.

Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Jesus lays out two possible paths for us to be on: on a hard road, having gone through a narrow gate, or on an easy road, having gone through a wide gate.  All of humanity is on one of these roads.  There is no middle ground here.  And Jesus says the gate that we enter by and the road we are on determines whether or not we have eternal life.

The way of destruction that Jesus describes is the way of the world, the way of those who don’t know Jesus.  The gate is wide because there’s room for all kinds of beliefs, all kinds of behaviors, all kinds of (false) saviors.  There is no one way through at this gate.

It’s not hard to look at the world around us and see that there are a lot of different religious beliefs.  Christianity is not the only religion in the world.  It is certainly not the only religion that claims to be the one and only way to heaven.  This broad gate accepts all sorts of beliefs.

Some will ask, “Why is that so bad?  Shouldn’t all beliefs be honored as equally valid?”  Not if they’re not true.  There’s a reason we don’t accept the opinion that the world is flat anymore–we know it to be false.  As someone who’s crossed the Pacific Ocean, I can testify that the world is indeed round, and not flat.  There’s a reason that children all across the world lose points on their math tests if they answer that two plus two equals seven.  Two plus two is four, case closed.  And when we argue about the existence of God, and the nature of who He is, and what we must do to be in right relationship with Him, we cannot afford to treat it as just another talking point.  There is nothing more important than understanding and knowing who God is, and being in right relationship with Him.  The wide gate leads to destruction because it allows false beliefs about false gods to creep in, meaning that those who are on it are not right with the real God.

The way that leads to destruction is also easy.  On this road, there is no sacrifice, no commitment, no change.  There’s no repentance, or change in behaviors.  It is the road of the “good life,” the “easy life,” the “my life feels like a vacation life.”  It is the road that justifies sinful behavior by promoting self-rule.  It is the road of “your best life now.”  If your best life is now, you don’t know Jesus.  For those who know Jesus, we know our best life is yet to come, because our life is in Jesus, and He is coming back to finish making all things new.

So if you choose the easy road, that requires no commitment to God, if you choose the wide gate that leaves room for all sorts of “gods,” you may have an easy life here.  You’ll have fun following the “gods” of self, sex, money, power, etc.  But 20,000,000 years later, you’ll be separated from the real God, the one you rebelled against your entire life, and there will be no way to get out of hell, out of separation from fellowship with God.  Scary?  Yes.  But praise God Jesus’ sermon doesn’t end there.

Jesus next describes the way that leads to life.  This way goes through a narrow gate.  Now, understand that Jesus isn’t preaching a works-based salvation.  He isn’t saying that the gate is narrow and you have to work really hard, and do a lot of good things, to pass through it.  The gate is narrow because there’s only one way through–Him.

You enter by the narrow gate when you give up on yourself and lean on the finished work of Christ alone for your salvation, and trust in Him alone to be your Lord and to lead you in a new life of knowing, trusting and obeying Him.  In other words, we are saved, by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.

But isn’t that, someone may ask, insulting to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, etc.?  Yes, it is.  It’s insulting to me, too.  It’s insulting to all of us.  The cross is insulting because the cross is humbling.  We want to save ourselves.  We want to pay back our sin debt.  We want to be in control, and we want God to listen to us.  We want the Creator to be at the mercy and will of the created, and that’s just not how it works.  You can’t be your own God and have God as your God at the same time.  You can’t have life while rejecting the God who gives life.  The question is not, “Is the cross insulting?” but rather, “Will I let God kill my pride that I may be saved through Christ?”

The Christian life is hard.  Sometimes, we like to dress it up like it’s a party, where we’re constantly in worship, constantly growing to be more like Christ, always smiling and happy.  We never struggle to believe God, or to give our time and money and energy to the kingdom of God.  But that’s not the truth, and anyone who’s trusted in Jesus for more than five minutes can testify to this fact!  On top of the sufferings and struggles every person, regardless of their relationship with Jesus, experiences, such as medical problems, job loss, relationship tensions, etc., Christians are also in a war with their sin.  A Christian is one who has made Christ their Lord and has made sin their enemy.  We hate our sin.  Jesus is in charge now.  He has given us His perfect righteousness.  He has forgiven us through His precious blood.  We recoil at the very thought of offending Him because of His great love for us.  But we do sin.  And we sin a lot.  And we sin horribly.  Some of the things I most regret in my life have come after I came to know Christ.  The difference is in how we respond to our sin.  Instead of simply shrugging our shoulders and getting on with our lives, we confess our sins before God.  We agree with Him that our sin is wrong.  We trust Him to help us follow Him, and we rest in His righteousness and in His forgiveness of our sins.

That’s hard work!  There’s joy in knowing we’re forgiven, but the pain of daily repentance and the effort required to daily pursue God threatens us and entices us to turn away from Him, and live our lives like He does not exist.  But Christ has not left us that option.  He is Lord.  And those who fight sin and trust Him for the entirety of their lives will be saved, and will have a joy beyond compare in the life to come.  Let’s choose that life today.

This is not the popular way.  To renounce self and put my dependence on Christ and follow Him as Lord never has been and never will be popular.  The result of Jesus’ ministry was public execution.  The result of some missionaries’ preaching of this gospel is their death.  But will we be popular, or saved?  Will we be with the world, or with God?  Will we be famous and living the easy life, or struggling for the glory of God?

Will you choose death, or will you choose life?

Lord, may we choose you.  May we trust that you love us, that you save us, that you lead us, and that no matter how hard this difficult road gets, we won’t ever walk it alone.  May the gospel rid us of all fear and doubt and lead us to give our lives for your sake.  May you be glorified in the lives of those who choose to enter by the narrow gate and embark on the hard way.

God bless,

Neal E.

Mourn Well

Although we’ve now moved into February, today’s post finishes up a series from January talking about Godly emotions and attitudes.  We wrap up with how to mourn well as a Christian.

Mourning is a part of life.  We cry when our loved ones die.  We cry when life changes unexpectedly, and there’s seemingly nothing we can do about it.  We weep for the lost around us, those who don’t know Christ.  We weep over sin in our lives.  We mourn.  But how do we do it in such a way that God is glorified by it?

In John 11:17-44, Jesus Himself shows us how to mourn with Godly sorrow over the loss of a loved one.  In this passage, He does something we would not expect.

Jesus has learned that his friend Lazarus has died, so He goes to Martha and Mary, Lazarus’ sisters.  He comes to comfort them and be with them, but, as we also know, He’s come to raise Lazarus from the dead.  So Jesus, it would seem, would be okay.  There would be no need for Him to mourn, because He knows that this is temporary.  He even says it in verse 11, right before our passage starts: “After saying these things, he (Jesus) said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.'”  Jesus is fully aware that this is not the end for Lazarus.

And yet, when we get to verse 33, we find Jesus “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.”  Jesus is literally a few minutes away from raising Lazarus from the grave, and yet, Jesus is still greatly troubled.  And then we come to verse 35, the shortest verse in all of Scripture: “Jesus wept.”

Jesus wept.  The King of all creation wept at the loss of His friend.  Here Jesus shows us that He really is fully God and fully man, as He both weeps over the death of His friend and, as God, overcomes death.

So what can we take from this?  Three things:

1) Death is not part of God’s good design.  If we go back to Eden, the punishment for sin was death.  We read in Romans 6:23 that the “wages of sin is death.”  Christ, in His weeping, understood the horror of the fall, of the death that has come to God’s creation as a result of sin–both physical death and spiritual death.  Isn’t this a beautiful image?  The God whom we have sinned against weeps over His fallen creation.  The holy God of the universe has compassion on His sinful creatures.  And in Christ, He’s done something about it.

2) Death is not final.  Jesus, in verse 43, yells inside the tomb and cries, “Lazarus, come out.”  Here we have a small picture of the victory Christ wins over death.  At the end of the book of John, we see the risen Christ, eternally conquering death for those who turn and trust in Him.  Paul describes the resurrection of the believer in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22–“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”  If we are in Christ, that is, we are submitted to Him as Lord, trusting Him to help us follow Him, and we trust in Him for salvation, we will conquer death as well.  In Christ, there is no eternal death.  And one day, death will be no more: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”–Rev. 21:4

3) Until that wonderful day comes, it is okay to weep, even as we trust God’s promises.  Here’s how we mourn in such a way that it honors God:  We weep while believing the promises of God.  Jesus wept, while knowing that Lazarus’ death was temporary.  He wept as He went to the cross in our place, knowing that He would be raised from the dead.  And we weep now, truly and genuinely experiencing loss, angry and broken at the fallen world around us and the sinful flesh within us that caused it.  But we are also hopeful, believing the promises of God: that for those who are in Christ Jesus, there is no eternal death.  We remain hopeful, looking forward to the day where we, the body of Christ, and the rest of the world, are finally and fully redeemed.

Christian, if Jesus wept, you are most certainly free to weep.  The hope of the gospel does not take away the legitimate pain we feel at the loss of a loved one, or at the suffering we experience in this world.  But it does give us assurance that death, sin and Satan do not have the final word.  Jesus does, and He has declared victory for everyone who trusts in Him as Lord and Savior.  That victory will not be fully realized until He comes back.  Our hope is not in having “our best life now,” but in the life that is to come, where we are with Jesus forever, where our love for Him and joy in Him is complete, where we are just like Him, and sin and suffering are gone forever.

My grandmother on my dad’s side passed away this week.  I didn’t know her all that well, but I had the joy and privilege of meeting her and spending time with her before she passed.  And while I don’t know much about her, I know that she trusted and loved Jesus Christ, and I know that she is with Him now.  So while there is great sadness over loss, and sorrow that she is gone, we rejoice in the hope of the gospel.  We mourn well, trusting God in good times and in bad.

Lord, in the hard times that this life brings, in the midst of intense suffering, whether it’s the loss of a loved one, persecution, or just tough life circumstances, may we trust in your promises.  May we find in you, Jesus, the freedom to weep, to mourn, to grieve, all the while trusting that you are still God, and that one day, we will see you, and all of our loved ones in Christ.  May we “always be ready to make a defense for the hope” that we have in you, a hope of eternal life, a hope of salvation, of perfection, that one day will be fully realized when you come back.  Hasten that day, Lord.

God bless,

Neal E.